28 NOVEMBER 2016 (SYDNEY): The silly season is upon us: employees are loosening their ties and letting their guards down in anticipation of the ensuing office shenanigans.

But while a generous bar tab or well-stocked mini-fridge can see like a good way to thank your staff for a long year’s work, it brings its own host of problems.

Many office workers fail to realise that the same standards of conduct – not to mention workplace policies and relevant legislation – apply if the party is held on company time.

Nicole Wilson, Practice Leader at LegalVision, explains how to avoid getting fired at your work Christmasparty or have a disgruntled employee sue your company.

“It’s all too common for ‘that guy’ (or girl) to offend colleagues with off-colour jokes, unwanted advances, abusing the boss, or other behaviour that would generally be considered inappropriate during regular office hours.

“The office party (and after party) can be considered ‘work time’, and employers potentially leave themselves open to liability if they don’t exercise due care. The complainant doesn’t even need to have been the target of the offensive behaviour. Simply overhearing colleagues tell sexual jokes could be construed as sexual harassment.”

Practical steps that employers can take to protect the business from over-zealous merry-making include:

  1. Know your policies and enforce them. Employee behaviour could breach the workplace’s Sexual Harassment Policy, which provides the boss with grounds to potentially terminate their employment contract. For employers, it’s worth revisiting these policies and ensuring employees are familiar with the company’s expectations on appropriate behaviour.
  2. Specify what does and doesn’t constitute ‘work time’. Workplace policies and legislation regulate behaviour during work time and not after hours. If the team wants to ‘kick on’ after the work party has come to an end, you should make it explicit that any after party is not part of the work function. Having a clear start and finish time can help. Also, make sure you do not serve alcohol after the finish time.
  3. Take care of staff: As the work Christmasparty is considered ‘work time’, employers can be held liable if staff are injured as part of the festivities. While combining paintball and wine tasting may sound like a great end of year event, you need to consider your team’s safety. Ensure you inspect any venue for possible risks and hazards before the event to ensure your staff have a great time and go home in one piece.
  4. Exercise responsible service of alcohol: You would be right in thinking it’s contradictory to expect compliance with the usual standards of behaviour while serving employees an unlimited supply of alcohol. In such instances, employers can’t strictly reply on their workplace policies, and it’s in your best interest to include food and non-alcohol drinks as part of the catering package. Management should lead by example and ensure a senior staff member remains sober and in charge of the evening to help extinguish any potential issues.
  5. Arrange post-party transportAlthough hosting your Christmasparty at an exotic function sounds great, this can be a logistical nightmare if there are limited public transport options. It may also result in some employees driving to the function, which causes problems if they decide to drive home after a few (or more) drinks. Make sure there are plenty of public transport options or arrange private transport for your staff to ensure they all get home safely to enjoy the holidays.
  6. Switch off the social media: Almost every business has a social media page, and you should take steps to make sure your staff understands the policy regarding posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s all fun and games until someone drunk tweets from the work account or posts compromising photos from the Christmas party to the company Facebook page – and no one wants to wake up the next morning with social media hangover and a stern ‘take down’ email from the boss.

About LegalVision (Media Kit)
LegalVision is a market disruptor in the commercial legal services industry. Their innovative business model and custom-built technology assist their lawyers to provide a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience. LegalVision is a leader in delivering legal services in Australia and has assisted more than 15,000 businesses.